EA Sports is a brand name used by Electronic Arts since 1993 to distribute games based on sports. Formerly a gimmick inside Electronic Arts sports games, that tried to mimic real-life sports networks, calling themselves "EA Sports Network" (EASN) with pictures or endorsements of real comentators such as Ron Barr and John Madden, soon grew up to become a sub-label on its own, releasing games such as FIFA, NHL, Madden NFL, and NCAA Football. EA Sports' early motto, If it's in the game, it's in the game reflects the aim of the early games to portrait reality as best as the technology would allow. Unlike other companies, EA Sports has no special ties to a single platform, all games are released for the best-selling active platforms, sometimes long after most other companies abandon them (FIFA 98 and NHL 98 were released for the Mega Drive and the Sega Genesis, respectively; and Madden NFL 2005 and FIFA 2005 still had PlayStation releases).
16 bit era
After establishing with some highly regarded titles from 1987-1992, most notably Earl Weaver Baseball 1987, John Madden Football 1990 and NHL Hockey 1991, EA decided in 1992 to launch a sports-only label and EASN was born. ESPN took note of the similarities, and forced EA to come up with a new label to put their sports label under for the 1994 season. The first run of the 1994 season still donned the EASN brand, with a 'first run' logo on the lower right hand corner of the box (this was also done in 1993), while the rest of the production run was under the name EA Sports. With a new logo (whose design later would be also adopted by EA) and a uniform box design, all white with a live-action photo (example), the exception being the Madden games, which featured Madden himself. All boxes would remain this way until 1997, when individual players starred alone, and although the 99 titles featured one unusual dark blue case, the all-white boxes returned next year.
The first titles were released for both Sega's 16-bit console, the Mega Drive/Sega Genesis, and Nintendo's SNES (among other platforms, but only regularly for these two). In fact, some attribute the success of Sega's console partly on the strength of the sports catalog provided by EA Sports. On the other hand, the lack of them on the next Sega console, the Saturn is believed to be one of the reasons it failed on the American market.
32 bit era to present
As the 16-bit era came to a close, and powerful 3D-capable consoles appeared, EA had to reinvent their franchises, and some of the earliest titles failed to live up to their 2D predecessors' reputation. However, in 1998 two games received very positive feedback - FIFA 98: Road to World Cup and NHL 98. Later that year, World Cup 98 broke the bad reputation of "official videogames" by receiving high marks almost unanimously. As fluidity in gameplay caught up with graphics, EA soon had to face another problem: the lack of improvement over previous titles, or as fans dubbed it, "sequelitis". The first years of the 21st Century were problematic, with many fans left wondering about why they should bother with the next release, when few new features are added, gameplay was not improved (it was more action-oriented than some of their newer competitors) and their long-asked requests were not answered.
A new sublabel also appeared, dubbed EA Sports BIG, which specialized on extreme sports or unconventional takes on sports, such as Def Jam Vendetta, NFL Street, NBA Street, SSX, FIFA Street and Freekstyle.
Series and games
Most EA Sports games are distinguished by year, as most games are released on a yearly basis. However, as EA Sports is the leading purchaser of official licenses, it's not uncommon that in a short span several games of the same sport but with different licenses are released: FIFA 98 was shortly followed by World Cup 98 (as EA has the license for the FIFA World Cup and the European Football Championship, it happens regularly in two-year intervals) and college football or basketball games based on both NBA Live and Madden NFL. The earlier titles released until 1996 are referred by fans as the classic series.
- Madden NFL series, 1988 (games prior to 1993 did not have an NFL license)
- NCAA Football series, 1996 (prior to 1996 the name of the franchise was Bill Walsh College Football)
- NBA Live series, 1994
- Triple Play series, 1996, discontinued in 2002, giving place to the MVP Baseball series
- FIFA series, 1993
- EA Sports also released several other games, most notably the games with World Cup and European Championship licenses.
- PGA Tour series, 1990, renamed to Tiger Woods PGA Tour in 1999
- NASCAR Thunder series (later renamed to NASCAR: Chase for the Cup, however, beginning with the 2006 version, the game will be titled NASCAR: Total Team Control)
- NCAA March Madness series
- Knockout Kings series, which was composed of five titles (between 1998 and 2002) and then discontinued when Fight Night 2004 was released. In the past, Toughman Contest was also released.
- Total Club Manager
- Preceded by FIFA Soccer Manager (1996) and the Premier League Manager series.
- Rugby series
- Although Rugby World Cup 95 and Australian Rugby League (one for Genisis/Mega Drive and PC 95 and 96 respectivly) were released still during the 16-bit era, the series would only turn regular in 2003. The official game of the 1999 Rugby Union World Cup was delayed, and was only released many months after as Rugby 2001.
- First version due out in February 2006
- Cricket Series
- Cricket was a biannual series but is a annual series now.
There are other series, including F1 Championship (discontinued after Sony acquired the exclusive license for the Formula 1 championship), Superbike and others with a limited distribution such as AFL.
In 2003 EA purchased the license to NASCAR, ending competition from Papyrus and Infogrames. Many loyal fans of the NASCAR Racing Series games by Papyrus resent EA for that and currently boycott all EA games. More recently, after purchasing the license of the UEFA Champions League (previously owned by Eidos) in November 2004, a month later EA announced an exclusive deal (rumoured to be worth around US $1B) with the NFL and the NFL Players Association (Players Inc.) making them the sole provider of licensed NFL video games until 2010, which effectively removes the competition from the market, who will not be allowed to feature real NFL players or teams in their games. It is considered that one of the main reasons behind the deal is related with Take Two's aggressive pricing with their ESPN-licensed series, which were retailed at budget price, about half the price of a regular EA Sports game. It is believed that the same move was attempted in late 2004 on the NBA, but it was refused and afterwards EA executives denied making any offer to the basketball association. However, their "exclusive spree" continued on January 2005 when a deal with the Arena Football League (AFL) was announced, but with less impact on the market, as the license was previously vacant. A new deal was done just days after the AFL deal, when former SEGA/Take Two partners ESPN signed a 15-year deal with EA Sports. In 2005, EA also completed an exclusivity deal with the NCAA, allowing EA to produce the only officially licensed college football game.
The only real loss of these deals was of the MLB series, which went for five years (starting 2006) to Take Two.